Meet Sonia

Say it loud and there’s music playing. Say it soft, and it’s almost like praying.


Suddenly that name will never be the same for us.

Her supporters and opponents are already eyeing one another like Jets and Sharks, and Dick Cheney says when you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way. But ABC News’ Rick Klein Notes the coming rumble isn’t “Democrats versus Republicans; it’s Republicans versus conservative interest groups.”

Before the confirmation song and dance begins, take a look at her biography and her qualifications, dear reader. And ask yourself this: if we cast Sotomayor as Maria, SCOTUS as Tony, and Obama as Bernardo, is who plays Officer Krupke? Wolf Blitzer?

Now consider the politics. Bench nominees must have sterling jurisprudential credentials, but politically, picking a justice is about which fights you want and which fights you don’t.

The fight Team Obama doesn’t want is with women. Since Justice O’Connor retired, there has been but one woman on the Bench. Candidate Obama was accused of sexism, by the left when he took a no-holds-barred approach to the primary, then again over his VP choice; and from the right, and their upholder of feminism.

Sotomayor allows the White House to bolster its credentials with the fairer sex. But Sotomayor’s nomination isn’t just good defense. It’s good offense.

Sotomayor puts the Republican Party in a bind. The GOP has struggled to attract women voters, as well as Latinos, who make up the nation’s largest ethnic minority and whose share of the population continues to grow. If the GOP shot down the first Hispanic woman Court nominee, women and Latinos might vote Democrat for a generation. The GOP might never recover.

But a Supreme Court nomination is a big deal, and conservative interest groups will expect GOP senators to vociferously oppose Sotomayor. Roll over, they will say, and you can forget about our campaign contributions the next time you run for re-election.

For now, the GOP may simply say there isn’t enough time to hold confirmation hearings before the August recess. A delay into the fall would allow the Republican caucus time to regroup. When the hearings finally come, expect more quotes like this one from Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.): “She certainly stands in a good stead, but I do think it’s potentially a good teaching moment for the country.”

The Sotomayor announcement came at a welcome time for several folks. Take the junior senator from Illinois, for example. Roland Burris was caught promising a campaign contribution to Rod Blagojevich at the same time he was asking the now-deposed governor for the senate seat vacated by Obama.

Also, GM. n the 100 day anniversary of the stimulus package, GM has unveiled a plan to make the United States a 70 percent shareholder. If your broker advised you to buy 70 percent of General Motors, how long would he continue to be your broker?

And don’t forget Chris Dodd. The GOP hasn’t.

Finally this week, a study has found each family with health insurance pays $1017 each year to cover the uninsured. This may spur congressional action on the president’s healthcare plan.

Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…

The New York Times: “Sotomayor’s Rulings are Exhaustive but Often Narrow” by Adam Liptak.

Politico: “Right Divided Over Court Fight” by Jeanne Cummings.

Real Clear Politics: “One Worthy Debate” by David Broder.

Newsweek: “They May Not Want the Bomb” by Fareed Zakaria.

Des Moines Register: “Father, an Old Soldier, in Spirit is Made Whole” by Nancy Dugan.


Diggin’ It

Crack open a newspaper this morning, and you’ll see plenty of CAFE coverage. But another question gurgles beneath the surface that may determine whether President Obama gets his new auto efficiency standards or any of his priorities.


Quick, who is more help to the Democrats these days: congressional leadership or Dick Cheney?


The Senate Majority Leader is in trouble. Today, a Las Vegas Review-Journal poll shows Nevada voters would show Harry Reid the door if his reelection were on the line today. That looks bad.


But it’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that has neglected the first rule of holes, dear reader: when in one, stop digging.


First, she claimed CIA staffers never briefed her about EITs (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques), or waterboarding. Then she claimed the Agency said they had okayed waterboarding, but never told Pelosi they were actually waterboarding suspects. Then she claimed the Agency specifically said they were not waterboarding alleged terrorists.


Turns out none of that is exactly true. As Pelosi was campaigning for a Democratic majority in 2006 and 2008, she was arguing in part that Republicans had betrayed American ideals by torturing terrorism suspects. Problem is, it seems she knew torture was going on for years, but raised no objection until it was politically advantageous.


As Washington Post columnist David Ignatius notes (see today’s Top 5), Pelosi is putting self-preservation above her congressional oversight responsibilities. That doesn’t just look bad. It is bad.


So the President’s friends on the Hill aren’t pulling their weight. That’s important, because Republicans aren’t going to sit idly while Democrats try to accomplish their legislative objectives. The GOP can’t outvote the Dems, but they can alter legislation to make it so unappealing that no reasonable legislator of either party would vote for it.


If America likes congressional Democrats, voters are likely to view Republican roadblocks as cynical obstructionism. But if the Dems appear incompetent, or self-serving, or on the way out, the same roadblocks become bulwarks against liberal connivances.


The Blog is tracking several other stories. Today the president will, as noted above, announce new federal standards for auto emissions. The aim is threefold: curb greenhouse gasses, increase American energy independence, and nudge automakers to produce cars of the future. It’s kind of a big deal.


The White House reversed one (er, one and a half) policy last week. It decided to withhold CIA photos of detainee abuses and reopen the detainee tribunal system. The former is something of a disappointment to the Blog. The president campaigned on open government and honest reckoning with our mistakes. This seems to be a flip-flop.


On the other hand, as James Carville recently said, Obama’s decision on the photos would either alienate the ACLU or Muslim moderates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. Alienate the ACLU, and they file a complaint. Alienate Muslim moderates, and they may decide to plant IEDs near American troops.


As for the tribunals, there has to be some way to process these suspects—they can’t languish untried forever. The president had said he would stop the tribunals altogether. But now, Obama has given detainees more access to proper legal protections and representation, and has thrown out evidence gained by torture. These look substantially less like kangaroo courts. We haven’t heard the last of the tribunals or the photos, dear reader. Count on it.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The Washington Post: “Speaker vs. Spies: A Test for Obama” by David Ignatius.


National Journal: “Business Climbs Abroad” by Ron Brownstein.


Newsweek: “A Highly Logical Approach” by Jon Meacham.


The New York Times: “Conservatives Map Strategies on Court Fight” by Charlie Savage.


Economist: “Phoney War.


On Deck

This week’s stories may become next week’s stories. Flaps over Pelosi, CIA photos, cap and trade, healthcare, and an open seat on the bench show no signs of letting up; both Republicans and Democrats see a reason to keep these storylines going. As they continue to develop, you can count on the Blog to bring you the skinny.


Politics, dear reader, is a thinking person’s game. For example:


Barack Obama thinks Egypt would make a good setting for a much-anticipated statement to the Islamic world. Would-be assassins may think so, too.


Dick Cheney thinks Rush Limbaugh is a better Republican than Colin Powell. The White House thinks every time Cheney (or Limbaugh) opens his mouth, re-election becomes just a little easier.


Sec. Gates thinks Stan McChrystal will do a better job in Afghanistan than David McKiernan. The Blog thinks Gates wishes McKiernan’s ouster was still the biggest news at the Pentagon.


GOP boss Michael Steele thinks former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism might be a turn off for GOP base voters. Romney thinks Steele should stick it where the moon don’t shine.


Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist thinks being a senator might be fun. So (still) do Al Franken and Norm Coleman.


But the problem with thinking is it usually produces more questions.


Did Nancy Pelosi think silence was a good idea when she found out about torture? Did she think at all?


What will Congress think of the administration’s renewed healthcare push? And what will the president think of the bill congress eventually presents to him?


What was Wanda Sykes thinking when she called Karl Rove the 20th hijacker?


Of the events planned by the White House in the past week, none went better than the healthcare rollout (with the possible exception of the Tar Heel visit). But few policy proposals will face tougher challenges in coming weeks. As the NYT’s Robert Pear wrote, “There was something in [a revamped healthcare plan] for Mr. Obama, and something for the industry—though not necessarily the same thing. Their interests overlap but do not coincide.” Once Congress gets into it, Obama will need all his chips to control the stakes.


Obama’s control may be needed elsewhere first. Though the administration continues to project sunshine on the economy, many economists aren’t buying it. Nobody seems to dispute this: next year, the government will borrow 50 cents of every dollar it spends. Zoinks.


It’s not as simple as cutting waste from the budget. Obama will do that, but he must also fight tooth-and-nail for policy initiatives like carbon emissions, bank reorganization, and the aforementioned healthcare reform to keep his balance sheets in tact. If any one of those fails, the budget will have to be rewritten.


The president’s popularity remains high, which (as the Blog has argued before) is critically important. The president muted his reaction to Wanda Sykes’ out-of-line joke at last week’s White House Correspondents Association dinner, then gave a great speech of his own.


After the laughter comes tears (usually). Obama’s trek is as tenuous as it has ever been. He shoulders many heavy burdens, each tied to the other. Drop any one, and the rest may follow.


But he’s made it this far with a smile on his face, and for now, he trudges on.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The Washington Post: “Lawmakers Balk at Holding Guantanamo Bay Detainees in U.S.” by Perry Bacon Jr.


TIME: “Healthcare: Industry Steps Up. Maybe” by Joe Klein.


The Washington Post: “The Reticence in Broadcasting Network” by Dana Milbank.


Los Angeles Times: “Obama’s big bet on Pakistan” by Doyle McManus.


Real Clear Politics: “Catholic Political Divide Over Obama at Notre Dame” by Beth Fouhy.


On Deck:

You know you’re in trouble when…


…Democrats and Republicans agree you’re crooked.


…your best defense is “I thought it would be best if someone else wrote a strongly worded letter.”


…you face 29,000 counts of murder charges two weeks after the leader of the free world called genocide a global security threat.

Human Resources

It was a busy week in the Blog’s HR department. Let’s take a peek at the ol’ inbox.


Item One: Justice Souter served his two-weeks notice. That’s no real surprise—he’d told friends he would retire if Obama won last year’s election—but Souter’s departure has implications wide and deep. Everything that happens in Washington this summer will be affected by a new pick for the bench. Don’t expect the GOP to stand blithely by. Their new ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee is Jeff Sessions, a veteran of nasty confirmation fights.


Obama will likely choose a moderate-to-liberal jurist to replace the moderate-to-liberal Souter. Asked what he’s looking for in the next SCOTUS associate justice, Obama replied, “Empathy.” Interpret as you will, dear reader.


Here’s a list of likely candidates.


Item Two: Senator Specter filed a party-change application. This isn’t the first time. Specter began his career as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP to win a Philadelphia district attorney race. Now he’s switching back to hold his Senate seat.


The real significance of Specter’s re-conversion? It (plus Al Franken’s eventual accession) puts the Democrats at 60 votes in the Most Deliberative Body, a filibuster-proof margin over their Republican counterparts.


For Democrats, the 60 vote margin means they can legislate as they please, so long as they maintain party unity. The defection also allows them to cast the GOP as, like James Carville recently said, “a church that’s chasing out heretics” as opposed to “a church that’s trying to bring in converts.” The Republican Party is beholden to its far-right wing, Democrats will argue.


But it also means Democrats have no more excuses. Anything that goes wrong will be their fault. There’s almost no chance everything will go right, which is how the GOP can win back a few seats in next November’s midterm elections. And while Specter will likely support Dems on healthcare and environment issues, he’ll likely buck his new party’s line on foreign policy and spending.


Ultimately, the Specter switcheroo gives Democrats the image of total control, but it’s nearly impossible Democratic orthodoxy will prevail.


Item Three: A stack of applications for sick leave due to Swine Flu, a.k.a. H1N1. While the threat is still growing, the many diagnoses and relatively few fatalities has seemingly convinced health officials the crisis is containable.


Item Four: Chrysler is asking for unemployment benefits. Again. The automaker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week with the blessing (read: encouragement) of the White House. Fiat will be a partner to the company’s rebuilding efforts, and while the move generates more bad headlines for a company already drowning in ink, it’s probably the only road to recovery.


So HR’s been putting in overtime. Check this week’s “On Deck” to read why the pace will only quicken from here.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The Washington Post: “Quiet N.H. Home is Where Souter’s Heart Has Always Been” by Philip Rucker.


The Wall Street Journal: “Progressive Vision Likely in Next Jurist” by Jess Bravin.


Los Angeles Times: “It’s all on Obama now” by Peter Nicholas.


Newsweek: “The Slippery Side of 60” by Howard Fineman.


U.S. News and World Report: “Death of Newspapers Could Kill Communities, Civic Values, Too” by Mark Dunkelman.



On Deck: More to Come

The real problem for the Blog’s HR department? Each change above means more changes down the road. A new justice may be nominated as early as this week. Specter’s switch means new committee assignments for members of both parties. Will Specter be rewarded with a plum post at the expense of a fellow Dem, or will he be told to wait his turn, something he’s never especially enjoyed?


Final note: the John Edwards comeback tour is officially underway. Ugh.

Gettin’ Piggy With It

It’s been 100 days, dear reader, and this place is still a pig sty. The economy is wallowing in the mud, the Pentagon and Congress are beginning to squeal at each other, and you can bet your sweet bacon the GOP will bring up torture memos the next chance it gets. But for now, the porcine pandemic is center stage.


Perspective on swine flu comes in this week’s Top 5. For now, let us be perfectly crass, dear reader, and consider the political implications.


Last week began poorly for President Obama. In the first major communications miscue of his term, his rollout of Bush Administration torture memos reinforced all the wrong messages at the wrong time. He’d minced words in Trinidad. He’d let North Korea off the hook. He’d shaken hands with Chavez the demagogue. And now, he was releasing classified national security documents and considering punishing those who got valuable information from terrorists to save American lives.


There is a different side to each story, of course. He had been conciliatory at the Summit of the Americas after eight years of Bush-style bludgeoning. He’d taken a measured response to a failed missile test by an impotent madman. And he’d proven being polite to people with whom we disagree wasn’t just campaign rhetoric. Now, he wanted to ensure nobody is above the law in America.


But that’s not how those stories were perceived. Momentum was building on a GOP buzzword: weak. If not for swine flu, that might still be the story—“GOP Tells Obama to Get Tough.”


Swine flu offers a temporary political reprieve for the president, but it also brings new challenges. Obama’s vigorous response to the outbreak is partly motivated by still-fresh memories of Hurricane Katrina. People want to know their government will be there for them in a pinch. It’s Obama’s job to reassure them. One potential hang up: many public health appointments have not yet been made.

Swine flu headlines will fade, and when they do, the nation’s attention will refocus on the rest of the agenda.


The major economic news this still-fresh week is in the auto sector. Again. GM has announced it will eliminate 21,000 jobs, 13 plants, and around 3,000 dealerships, not to mention Pontiac, Hummer, Saturn, and Saab. GM’s cuts are meant to reassure the federal government its debts are being taken seriously. The company may still use Chapter 11 to reorganize.


On Capitol Hill, many members of Congress are trying to convince the Department of Defense to buy weapons the Pentagon says it doesn’t want. Why? Because the weapons are made by people who voted for their member of Congress. If the Pentagon doesn’t buy the weapons, those voters lose their jobs. If voters lose their jobs, they might blame members of Congress.


The president must also contend with swine flu, disintegrating Pakistan, and healthcare, energy, and education bills in congress. Oh, and don’t forget about the torture memos. The GOP hasn’t.


Yet POTUS still commands substantial public support. Yesterday’s poll is nice, big, “That’ll do, POTUS.” Little has been fixed, but he’s done well enough so far to maintain Americans’ forbearance.


So what’s the verdict on the First 100 Days? Ask us after the Next 100 Days.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The New York Times: “Assessing the Danger of New Strain of Swine Flu” by Keith Bradsher.


The Washington Post: “For Media, 100-Days Story Represents Perfect Swarm” by Howard Kurtz.


Newsweek: “100 Days to Make Any President Envious” by Fareed Zakaria.


Globe and Mail: “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” by Margaret Wente.


TIME: “Obama’s Growing Dilemma on Torture Prosecution” by Mark Thompson.


On Deck

Arlen Specter, who faced a tough bid to win the GOP re-nomination to hold onto his Pennsylvania Senate seat, will change his party registration. This has huge implications across government, because the Democrats will now have a filibuster-proof majority in the upper chamber. Look for much fallout this week.


There will also be substantial finger pointing over swine flu. The Washington Times ran a story today about how Democratic lawmakers cut flu funds from the recent stimulus package. More to follow.

That’s Politics

Ever seen Lawrence of Arabia? It’s one of the Blog’s faves. In it, a newspaperman asks an Arab what the Arabs are learning about politics.


“You’ll be a democracy in this country?” the reporter asks. “You gonna have a parliament?”


The Arab answers, “I will tell you that when we have a country.”


The reporter smiles.


“Did I answer well?” the Arab asks.


“You answered without saying anything,” the reporter responds. “That’s politics.”


The reporter is right, if cynical: skilled politicians can keep the game moving without granting either side any points. President Obama is a skilled politician.


Last week, Obama left federal policy unchanged in two key areas. First, he said he still supports the bygone assault weapons ban, but won’t actively pursue its reinstatement. Second, he released CIA torture memos, but declined to prosecute torturers.


What do these bob-and-weaves have in common? Neither issue is about the Benjamins. The president believes he needs all his political capital to revamp the economy, so with few exceptions, everything else can take a number.


No president can keep this up for long. Obama’s stasis disappoints his supporters on the left and evinces weakness to his detractors on the right. But if he can refocus the left and right on the economy (shouldn’t be hard), he can still choose the terms of debate.


Elsewise, last week was about foreign policy. Before the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, President Obama held bi-lats with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.


Poor Felipe. Mexico’s border with the United States is nearly lawless. Ruthless oligarchs ship cocaina into El Norte and run guns back across the border so they can murder more soldiers, policemen, and innocents. If you haven’t already, peep the NYT series on that whole sitchu. Difficult to say whether Obama’s talks with Calderon will merit any progress.


When Obama landed on Trinidad, Cuba immediately took center stage. Ever since Teddy Roosevelt, er, James Monroe, what we call leadership Latin America has called domination. When economic times were high, we imposed regulatory requirements on Latin American countries before we lent them money. When last year’s downturn hit, those regulations meant Latin American markets plummeted just like our own. Now, Latin America looks at us the way Hardy looked at Laurel.


Finally, the Blog calls your attention to India, where last week the largest exercise of democracy in the history of the world began. India has 714 million eligible voters (the United States has 212 million, in case you were curious). Voting lasts for one month.


Among the central issues in India’s election is poverty. 40 percent of India’s population (or roughly 450 million people) lives below the World Bank’s poverty line, $1.25 per day. 450 million people, less than a buck twenty-five a day. Cogitate on that, dear reader.


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The New York Times: “Big Profits, Big Questions” by William D. Cohan.


TIME: “How to Raise the Standard in America’s Public Schools” by Walter Isaacson.


The New Republic: “Nudge-ocracy” by Franklin Foer and Noam Sheiber.


Los Angeles Times: “Measuring Obama by FDR’s Yardstick” by Doyle McManus.


The Washington Post: “When Slapped, Slap Back” by Eugene Robinson.


On Deck: Stormy Weather

The Blog sees rougher waters ahead for the president. Congress has declared the “mother of all climate weeks” just as his cap-and-trade policy is taking on water from both port and starboard sides. Obama may do best to repeat his budget strategy here: stay focused on the big picture, and take what he can get. Education (see this week’s Top 5) and healthcare debates also loom.


Finally, Obama’s plan to shave $100 million from the federal budget in his first 100 days may be the worst kind of political promises: ones you don’t meet and wouldn’t do much good even if met.


Candidate Obama often referred to the tough decisions America has put off for too long. Now is the time to make them, and President Obama is in the big chair.

Avast, Ye Dogs

The Blog returns this week in a slightly truncated format. Gone is the weekly Feature, but we’ll still bring you news and analysis of the week that was, links to the best political writing out there, and a peek at what’s to come. Let’s get started.


The Wrap: Avast, Ye Dogs

This weekend President Obama saved a guy from pirates, brought his daughters a puppy, and went straight to church. Beat that.


(For the record, the Blog sat around eating Peeps and watching the Masters. That’s why Obama’s the captain and we’re swabbing the decks.)


If you think the president is getting too much credit for the pirate episode, Politico’s Roger Simon says, you’re right. But Obama will walk the plank when events beyond his control go wrong, too. Besides, think about how big a problem POTUS would have this morning if the “3 rounds, 3 bodies” equation had come up different.


Swashbuckling aside, the economy still owns the agenda. News from Wall Street to Main Street improves by the day, though not enough to call it a rebound just yet. Small businesses loans, home construction, and mortgage refinancing are growing again, but so is unemployment, to a 25-year high.


But the momentary reprieve, plus the Weekend of Great Images, allows Obama some leverage at an opportune moment. He’ll need it all (and then some) in the coming days.


His energy bill is up for debate this week in the House, featuring a cap-and-trade plan. Here’s how it works: each business is allotted a certain number of carbon emissions each year. If it goes over, it can pay a tax or buy leftovers from companies that didn’t use all theirs. Liberals like the green emphasis. Conservatives don’t like the tax emphasis. By the time it moves to the Senate, the president may have one new ally.


The administration has also signaled a shift in Iran policy: the U.S. may allow Tehran to continue developing fissile material while negotiations proceed. This is surely a break from the Bush team, but to what effect?


As soon as these duels begin, Obama will depart for Mexico, where security, immigration, and regional economics are on the agenda.


POTUS is also charting new courses on immigration, Afghanistan, the DPRK, Iraq, the global economy, fighter jets, infrastructure, gay marriage, Cuba, and, oh yeah, pirates.


It’s a lot to do, especially all at once. Each piece will demand political capital. Obama has fair winds in the wake of his pirate victory. But will fair seas follow?


Top 5

The week’s best political reporting and commentary…


The New York Times: “Hints of Obama’s Strategy in a Telling 8 Days” by David Sanger.


The Washington Post: “Give-and-Take with Emanuel Advances President’s Agenda” by Shailagh Murray.


Newsweek: “Is Robert Gates a Genius?” by Fareed Zakaria.


Real Clear Politics: “A Resilient Christianity” by E.J. Dionne.


The Washington Post: “Some Facts About Who Pays Taxes,” Editorial.


On Deck

Today’s speech at Georgetown is part of a broader campaign to reassure the public on the economy. That battle, more than any other, will determine Obama’s success. Expect more such speeches in the near future from a bevy of aides and officials.


Obama heads to Mexico mid-week, where he’ll meet with Presidente Claderon. Meanwhile, the aforementioned legislative battles will begin on the Hill. Obama won’t be gone long.


Looking further ahead, the DCCC spies opportunity in the Golden State, and Arlen Specter is reminded that all politics are local.